Massachusetts

Aunt Rachel’s Curse – An Early Folktale from Plymouth

There is no shortage of ghost stories and superstitions around New England towns, but one of the earlier ones, dating back at least to the late 1700s, was of Aunt Rachel’s Curse in Plymouth, Mass.

Northeaster by Winslow Homer

Aunt Rachel was an old woman who lived in Plymouth, so the story goes, and she had a knack for predicting the weather. Before ships would go out of Plymouth Harbor, they would consult her about whether the time was right to sail. Upon safe return they would pay her a tribute for guiding them safely.

But Rachel, it was said, had a tragedy in her past. She had lost a husband and child in a shipwreck. Pirates had caused the wreck by using a lantern to draw the ship’s captain to steer onto the rocks.

Aunt Rachel’s Curse

One evening, a vessel came into Plymouth Harbor needing repairs. It was largely crewed by strangers. One of the crew, however, was local . When the men came to shore he made his way to visit Rachel. Casting an eye over the crew, she accused one of them of being a pirate like the men who killed her family. “Do not sail on that ship,” she warned the local.

The offended sailor took his revenge by setting fire to Rachel’s house. But this only made her angrier. As the now-repaired vessel made ready to leave, the townspeople gathered at the wharf to watch.

The ship’s owner, on hand to see it off, offered Rachel his sympathy for the loss of her house. He then suggested another that she might use.

“I need it no longer,” she said, “for the narrow house will soon be mine, and you wretches cannot burn that. But you! Who will console you for the loss of your brig? Think you that she can swim when loaded with the curses of the poor? With my curses, which have never yet been in vain?”

The ship’s owner looked at her incredulously as his ship cleared Brown’s Island, a largely submerged shoal that had tripped up many vessels. Then it passed Beach Point, the last obstacle in the harbor. He tried once more to speak with Rachel, but she just watched the ship. When the ship owner turned back to the sea he was astounded to see his ship sinking.

It had struck a rock that no one had ever seen before, and it went straight down. When he turned back to Rachel, he saw that she had fallen dead. The town buried her where her burned house had stood and forever more called the rock “Rachel’s Curse.”


This story was updated in 2021.

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